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Lakes Area Screaming Eagles set for 2nd season

By Brian Wierima

The learning process continues for the Northern Power League and the Lakes Area Screaming Eagles semipro football team, which both will be entering its second season this coming May.

After what can be considered a successful inaugural season in 2008, some additions and changes are on its way for the 2009 campaign, said Northern Power League commissioner and owner of the Screaming Eagles Jason McCloskey.

"We did some reorganization through the league to become more business mind-set to run a non-profit organization," McCloskey said.

The Screaming Eagles will open their offseason improvements by holding a combine at the Perham Community Center Saturday, running from 2-4 p.m.

There will be drills such as the bench press, shuttle run, a 40-yard dash, cone drills and specific position drills.

The most noticeable changes coming for the upcoming season will be the additions of a pair of teams.

The Rochester Giants and potentially a team from Mankato have been added, while the league lost Duluth.

"We also have up to three or four other potential teams which could join by the start of the season," McCloskey said.

But as things stand now, the Northern Power League will have seven teams, including the new Rochester club, which were the five-time champions of the now defunct Great Plains League from 2002-07.

Last year, the league finished with six teams, including Lakes Area, Willmar, Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Duluth and Fargo-Moorhead. All return except for Duluth.

There is now also an ultimate goal to play for at the end of the season, besides a league championship.

The Northern Power League has signed an agreement to play a regional championship game against the Great Midwest League -- which has teams hailing from Chicago and Missouri.

Each league champion will face-off for the regional title, as well as having an All-Star game at the end of the season.

The schedule has some slight changes, with nine games slated (the first two being preseason games which will count on the overall record, but not league), along with two bye weeks, with one falling on the July 4 weekend.

As far as the Screaming Eagles go, changes are underway, as well.

What probably won't change is the Eagles' home roosting spot, with negotiations already underway to play on the Frazee High School field again.

The big priorities also have been purchased by McCloskey, who also head coaches the team and is the starting quarterback.

"Last year, I spent about $23,000 and I finished about $5,000 in the hole," McCloskey said. "I was able to purchase the shoulder pads, helmets and jerseys last year, so this year, it will only be operational costs.

"I'm ahead of my business schedule, so I should be out of the hole soon."

One reason McCloskey -- who is also the head football and girls' basketball coach at Waubun -- was able to stay ahead of his business schedule was due to the fact the Screaming Eagles led the league in attendance with about 275 fans per home game.

"We now can focus on more advertising and spread the word more, since the equipment is already purchased," McCloskey included.

With the business aspect of running the team going more smoothly, McCloskey is also focusing on improving the product on the field.

The Screaming Eagles were one of the most inexperienced and youngest team in the league last year, finishing with a record of 2-7.

McCloskey said there is a good chance he can add some quality players on both the line and in the skill positions.

The Eagles will have a solid core returning, as well.

Central Lakes College linebacker Nick Kiphuth returns after a strong season on defense, while Billy Quittsdorf returns after another season playing for Bemidji State University.

Last year's Most Valuable Lineman Joe Hass returns to anchor both lines which all return, except for veteran D.J. Stone, who retired after the season.

"That's big having all your linemen return, it's a good bunch of players," McCloskey added.

Possession receiver and tight end T.J. Ash earned a scholarship to Mayville State and is expected to return.

Another wide receiver, the quick and shifty Mike Christensen, is currently playing for a semipro hockey team in Brooklyn, is also back.

Christensen led the team with six receiving touchdowns on 13 catches for 327 yards.

In the backfield, fullback Kyler Wegner will again be the leading blocker, with leading rusher Dave Moll's (527 yards rushing) return still in doubt.

But McCloskey said the team has the possibility to add players from Mayville State and Bemidji State, which would only make the team that much better.

McCloskey doesn't just want talent, he wants character on the team.

"We need character guys, that's important," he added. "I expect to be competitive in every game, too."